Boating Laws all of Georgia laws are under O.C.G.A. Title 52, Chapter 7.
Who Can Operate a Boat
There are three categories of people who can operate a boat in Georgia: those less than 12 years of age, those 12 through 15 years of age, and those 16 years or older.
Those less than 12 years of age
- May not operate any vessel over 16 feet in length.
- May legally operate a vessel under 16 feet in length which is either non-motorized or powered by a motor of 30 horsepower or less only if they are accompanied by a competent adult.
Those 12 through 15 years of age
- May legally operate any vessel less than 16 feet in length, including a PWC only if they:
– Have passed a boat education course approved by the Department of Natural Resources, OR
– Are accompanied by a competent adult
- May not legally operate any vessel over 16 feet in length.
Those 16 years of age or older
- May operate any boat on the waters of Georgia if they have proper identification onboard
- All operators born after January 1, 1998 must have passed a boater education course approved by the Department of Natural Resources and have card on board to operate any vessel.
“Competent Adult” means a person of age 18 or older who is not under the influence of alcohol or drugs and who is carrying proper identification.
“Proper Identification” means a drivers license (or legible copy) or any other government issued identification that contains a description of the person, a photograph, and birth date.
Rental Boat Requirements and Education Law
Code Section 52-7-8.3
No person shall rent, lease, or let for hire any vessel ten horsepower or more to any person under 16 years of age.
On or after July 1, 2014, a person 16 years of age or older may rent or lease any vessel ten horsepower or more if such person has completed a boating education course approved by the department.
This subsection shall not apply to:
- any person licensed by the United States Coast Guard as a master of a vessel.
- a resident or nonresident who has in his or her possession proof that he or she has completed a National Association of State Boating Law Administrators approved boater education course or equivalency examination from another state.
Renters will be required to watch a ten-minute boater education video, and sign an orientation safety checklist before operating any rented vessel 10 horsepower or greater.
This is required for all operators of a rented vessel.
We encourage ALL boaters to take a Boater Education Course. You may attend a 6 hour class or take it online. You may save on your boat insurance. Anyone born after January 1, 1998 is required to complete this course before operating any vessel.
Registering Your Boat or Personal Water Craft
All boat operators are required to obey laws that regulate your boats registration, operation and boater education.
Georgia Certificate of Boat Registration
You must have a Georgia Certificate of Boat Registration and a validation decal to legally operate your boat or personal watercraft on public waters in Georgia. The only exceptions are:
- Sailboats under 12 feet in length
- Canoes, kayaks, rowboats and rubber rafts that have no mechanical propulsion (i.e., are paddled, poled, oared or windblown)
- Boats operated exclusively on private ponds or lakes
The Certificate of Boat Registration and validation decal are obtained by submitting by mail the proper application and fee.
This certificate (pocket-sized plastic card) must be onboard and available for inspection by an enforcement officer whenever the boat or PWC is operated.
The registration number and validation decal must be displayed as follows:
- Number must be painted, decaled or otherwise affixed to both sides of the bow
- Number must read from left to right on both sides of the bow
- Number must be in at least three-inch-high block letters
- Numbers color must contrast with its background
- Letters must be separated from the numbers by a space or hyphen: “GA 3717 ZW” or “GA-3717-ZW”
- No other numbers may be displayed
- Decals must be displayed on each side of the bow, before the prefix letters of the registration number
Other Facts About Registering Your Boat Or PWC
If a boat owner changes address, he or she must notify the DNR Boat Registration Office by mail or phone within 15 days of change.
If you abandon or destroy your boat, you must report it to the DNR Boat Registration Office within 15 days and surrender your Certificate of Boat Registration.
If you lose or destroy your Certificate of Boat Registration, you may obtain a duplicate online, by phone or mail.
Boats bearing valid registration from another state need not be registered in Georgia unless they are used in Georgia for more than 60 consecutive days.
A recreational boat, owned by a U. S. citizen, may (at the option of the owner) apply for a U.S. Coast Guard’s “Certificate of Documentation” if it weighs 5 or more net tons. Call the U.S. Coast Guard Documentation Center at 1-800-799-8362 for more information.
Hull Identification Number
The Hull Identification Number (HIN) is a 12- or 14-character serial number that uniquely identifies a boat. The HIN is analogous to a VIN on a car.
All boats manufactured or imported on or after November 1, 1972, must bear a HIN, and this HIN must be identified during boat registration. Vessels manufactured or imported before 1972 are EXEMPT because they often do not have a HIN.
Hull Identification Number Inspection
A Hull Identification Number (HIN) Inspection is necessary when boat owners do not have a Hull Identification Number from the Manufacturer on any vessel built after 1972. HIN Inspections are also required for any Homemade vessel.
HIN Inspection Requirements
- Customers must have initiated the registration process with GoOutdoors 1-800-366-2661 (paid for a registration) before a HIN Inspection can be performed.
- HIN Inspections are conducted statewide based upon the Game Warden’s availability. Inspections CAN NOT be completed if customers have not paid for a registration.
- BOAT OWNERS (not a friend or other family member) should have all documents and correspondence related to the boat, including the bill of sale, any registration documents that may be helpful during the HIN Inspection to support registration.
- ONLY CONTACT your local Game Warden if you DO NOT have a HIN on your vessel or current data is invalid does not meet USCG requirements AND it is a 1972 or newer vessel / or any homemade vessel.
The HIN is found on a metal or plastic plate, typically on the transom of the boat, usually on the right starboard (right) side of the transom within two inches of the top of transom, gunwale, or hull/deck joint, whichever is lowest.
On vessels without transoms, or impractical to use transoms, the HIN is usually affixed to the starboard (right) outboard side of hull, aft, within one foot of the stern and within two inches of the top of the hull side, gunwale or hull/deck joint, whichever is lowest.
On catamarans and pontoon boats with replaceable hulls, the HIN is usually affixed to the aft crossbeam, within one foot of the starboard (right) hull attachment.
Boat Length Classifications
A boats length class dictates the equipment necessary to comply with federal and state laws. Boats are dividedinto four length classes:
- Less than 16 feet (Class A)
- 16 feet to less than 26 feet (Class 1)
- 26 feet to less than 40 feet (Class 2)
- 40 feet or longer (Class 3)
Length is measured from the tip of the bow in a straight line to the stern. This does not include outboard motors, brackets, rudders, bow attachments, or swim platforms and ladders not a molded part of the hull.
A Boat’s Capacity
Always check the capacity plate usually near the operators position or on the boats transom. This plate indicates the maximum weight capacity or the maximum number of people that the boat can safely carry.
PWC do not have a capacity plate. Always follow the recommended capacity in the owners manual and on the manufacturers warning decal.
Required Equipment Checklist
Use this checklist to make sure you go on the water properly equipped. Important: An X means the item is required. Also note the additional stipulations denoted by numbers 1 through 7.
Than 16 Ft.
|Boat 16 Ft. To|
Less Than 26 Ft.
|Boating Safety Certificate On Board||X 1||X 1||X 1|
|Certificate of Boat Registration On Board||X||X||X|
|Validation Decals Displayed||X||X||X|
|PFDs: Type I, II, or III||X 2||X 3||X 3|
|PFD: Type IV||X|
|Type B-I Fire Extinguisher||X||X||X|
|Ignition Safety Switch||X|
|Backfire Flame Arrestor||X||X 4||X 4|
|Horn, Whistle, or Bell||X 5||X 5||X 5|
|Daytime Visual Distress Signals||X 5|
|Nighttime Visual Distress Signals||6||X 5||X 5|
- Applicable if operator is 12 to 15 years of age.
- Those on PWCs must wear a personal flotation device (PFD) at all times.
- Those under the age of 13 must wear a PFD at all times while on any moving vessel.
- Required on inboards and stern drives only.
- Required on federally controlled waters.
- Not applicable to PWCs because PWCs are not allowed to operate between sunset and sunrise.
Requirements Specific to Personal Water Craft
Each person riding on a PWC must wear a U. S. Coast Guard approved Type I, II, III or V personal flotation device which is properly fitted and fastened. Inflatable Type V PFDs are not approved for PWC.
A PWC must be operated at idle speed if within 100 feet of a non-moving boat, dock or pier, bridge, person in the water, shoreline adjacent to a residence, public park or beach, swimming area, marina, restaurant or other public use area.
PWC must be equipped with fully operational self- circling device or a lanyard type engine cut-off switch. If a cut-off switch is used, the lanyard must be attached to the person, clothing or PFD of the operator.
PWC may not be operated between sunset and sunrise.
A PWC, operating at more than idle speed, cannot run around, ride or jump the wake of, or be within 100 feet of another moving boat or PWC unless it is overtaking the other boat in compliance with the rules for encountering other boats. When a PWC is overtaking another boat, it must not change course in order to ride or jump the wake of the boat being overtaken.
Every PWC towing a person(s) on water skis, tubes, or similar devices must be rated by the manufacturer to carry three or more persons and must have onboard a person, in addition to the PWC operator, capable of observing the towed person(s) at all times. A wide-angle mirror may not be used in place of an observer on PWC.
It is unlawful for an owner of a PWC to allow anyone else to operate their PWC in such a way that it violates the Georgia Boat Safety Act.
It is illegal to rent, lease or let for hire a PWC to a person under the age of 16 years.
Boating and Motor Restrictions
Outboard Motor Restrictions:
- No motor in excess of 9.9 hp may be operated on the Ogeechee River upstream of State Hwy 119
- No motor in excess of 25 hp may be operated on Lake Juliette
All boats that carry any means of mechanical propulsion and all sailboats 12 feet and longer must be registered. A boat registration application can be obtained from the Wildlife Resources Division website.
All vessels must be equipped with wearable personal flotation devices (PFD) for each person aboard. PFDs must be readily accessible to all occupants, in good and serviceable condition, legibly marked with the US Coast Guard approved number, and of appropriate size for the occupants. Also, one Type IV throwable device must be on board. Models are available for all ages and boating activities.
All vessels cannot be operated over idle speed within 100 feet of any moored or anchored vessel, vessel adrift, or any wharf, pier, piling, or persons in the water, or shoreline next to a full-time or part-time residence, public park, public beach, public swimming area, marina, restaurant, or other public use area.
Children under age 13 must wear an appropriately sized PFD when the vessel is under way, unless the child is within a fully enclosed, roofed cabin.
PFDs must be worn by each person aboard when operating a vessel in an area marked as “hazardous area”.
Personal watercraft (jet ski) cannot be operated in excess of 5 mph when within 100 feet of any moored or anchored vessel, shore, dock, pier, wharf, piling, bridge, or person in the water.
Georgia honors all other states’ registrations, provided the boat is not used in excess of 60 consecutive days.
Almost one-half of the boating accidents in Georgia are caused by collision with another boat or an object. Practically all boating accidents occur because of carelessness, inexperience or ignorance of safe boating practices.
Booze and boats do not mix! It is unlawful to operate a boat while under the influence of alcohol or drugs.
Know Georgia Boating Laws Before Heading Out to Water
Quick boating safety quiz: Do you think it is okay to jump the wake of another boat when you are less than 100 feet away or use your personal watercraft to splash someone sitting on a dock? Guess what, it’s not and in fact, both activities are illegal. If you thought otherwise, you should definitely make an effort to learn the boating “rules of the road.” Incidents can occur quickly, and the chance of one happening increase greatly if one or either boat operator is unfamiliar with or does not follow existing boating laws, or the “rules of the road,” that govern lakes and rivers.
“Anyone born on or after January 1, 1998 is required by Georgia law to take a DNR-approved boater education course prior to operating a vessel on state waters,” said Lt. Colonel Johnny Johnson, Assistant Director of DNR’s Law Enforcement Division. “If you were born before that date, you are not required by law to take the course, but we recommend that you do, ” he said. “It never hurts to get a reminder to boat safely and to brush up on boating laws, since occasionally they do change. Your efforts to stay up to date could potentially save your life or the life of someone you know.”
One of the most important “rules of the road” is the 100 foot law which includes all boats, not just personal watercraft (such as Jet Skis or Sea Doos), and requires boat operators to slow to idle speed when they are within 100 feet of docks, piers, bridges, shorelines or people in the water. The 100-foot law states, “No person shall operate any vessel or tow a person or persons on water skis, an aquaplane, a surfboard, or any similar device on the waters of this state at a speed greater than idle speed within 100 feet of any vessel which is moored, anchored, or adrift outside normal traffic channels, or any wharf, dock, pier, piling, bridge structure or abutment, person in the water, or shoreline adjacent to a full-time or part-time residence, public park, public beach, public swimming area, marina, restaurant, or other public use area.”
This means that it is illegal to jump the wake of another boat within 100 feet and to “buzz” other boats, vessels cannot operate around or within 100 feet of another vessel faster than idle speed unless it is overtaking or meeting the other vessel in compliance with the rules of the road for boat operation and makes it illegal for boat operators to follow closely behind another vessel, jump the wake of another vessel, or change or reverse their course of direction in order to ride or jump in the wake of another vessel.
“People who operate boats and personal watercraft at dangerously high speeds, and zip into and out of coves and along shorelines where other vessels are anchored or where people are in the water are not only putting themselves and others at risk for serious accidents, but they also are breaking the law,” says Lt. Col. Johnson.
Other “rules of the road” for boat operation include:
- When meeting another vessel, boat operators should pass on the right side (just like in a car) unless the boats are far enough apart that they are not meeting head on or close to head on.
- On narrow rivers and streams, stay as far right as possible and be careful when rounding bends and curves and overtaking or passing other boats.
- In a crossing situation, the boat on the right should hold its course and the boat on the left should slow down and cross behind the other boat.
- Powerboats always should yield to sailboats.
Skiers and Towing Skiers
It is illegal for boats or PWC to tow skiers, skiboards, or any device of this type between sunset and sunrise.
It is illegal for the operator of the towing vessel or person(s) being towed to be under the influence of alcohol or drugs.
A boat or PWC must not tow persons on water skis or similar devices within 100 feet of a non-moving boat, dock or pier, bridge, person in the water, shoreline adjacent to a residence, public park or beach, swimming area, marina, restaurant or other public use area.
The person being towed must wear a ski-belt, ski jacket or Type I, Type II or Type III personal flotation device.
Every boat towing a person(s) on water skis, or a similar device must have:
- A person, in addition to the boat operator, capable of observing the towed person(s) at all times
- A wide-angle rearview mirror mounted such that the operator can observe the towed person(s) at all times
Every PWC towing a person(s) on water skis, or similar device must be rated by the manufacturer to carry three or more persons and must have onboard a person, in addition to the PWC operator, capable of observing the towed person(s) at all times. A wide-angle mirror may not be used in place of an observer on PWC.
Hand Signals For Skiers
Knowing proper hand signals will help the skier(s) communicate with their boat operator or the observer.
Boating Under the Influence
Just remember this simple rule: Don’t drink and boat!
The Georgia Boat Safety Act prohibits anyone from boating under the influence (BUI) — that is, operating any boat, sailboat, personal watercraft, water skis, sailboard or similar device while intoxicated.
It is also unlawful for the owner of a boat or PWC to allow anyone else to operate their boat or PWC while that person is under the influence of alcohol or drugs.
Georgia boating law states:
- It is illegal for those under the age of 21 years to operate a boat or PWC if their blood alcohol level is 0.02 or more
- Those 21 years of age or older are considered to be under the influence, and may not operate a boat or PWC, if their blood alcohol level is 0.08 or more or if drugs are detected.
The Georgia Boat Safety Act sets these penalties:
- Those arrested for boating under the influence may lose their privilege to operate a boat or PWC until they successfully complete a DUI Alcohol or Drug Use Risk Reduction Program approved by the Department of Driver Services. They will also be charged with a misdemeanor punishable by fines up to $1,000 and/or prison time up to one year
- By operating a boat or PWC on Georgia waters, you have consented to be tested for alcohol or drugs if requested by a law enforcement official. If you refuse to be tested, you will lose your privilege to operate a boat or PWC for up to one year and your refusal may be offered into evidence against you at a trial
- A person found operating a boat or PWC under the influence while a child under the age of 14 years is on board, is also guilty of the separate charge of endangering a child.
Unlawful And Dangerous Operation
Reckless operation of a boat or PWC is the disregard for the safety of persons or property. Examples of are:
- Water skiing or dropping water skiers close to swimmers, launching ramps or other boaters
- Jumping the wake of another boat within 100 feet of that boat or buzzing other boats
- Causing damage from the wake of your boat
Improper Distance is not maintaining a proper distance while operating a boat or PWC or towing a person on water skis or any similar device. Specifically, it is illegal to:
- Operate a boat or PWC or tow a person on water skis or any similar device at greater than idle speed within 100 feet of a:
– Moored or anchored boat or any boat adrift
– Dock, pier or bridge
– Person(s) in the water
– Shoreline adjacent to a full – or part-time residence
– Public park or beach or a swimming area
– Marina, restaurant or other public use area
- Run around or within 100 feet of another boat at greater than idle speed unless you are overtaking or meeting the other boat in compliance with the rules for encountering other boats
- Follow closely behind another boat, jump the wake of the other boat or change course or direction in order to jump the wake of another boat
“Idle Speed” means to operate your boat or PWC at the slowest speed at which it is still possible to maintain steering control.
Failure to Regulate Speed is operating a boat or PWC at speeds that may cause danger, injury, damage, or unnecessary inconvenience either directly or by the effect of the boat’s wake. It is illegal to:
- Fail to regulate your speed near swimming areas, docks, moored boats and boats engaged in fishing
- Operate a boat or PWC faster than is reasonable and prudent under the conditions (weather, boat traffic)
Overloading is loading the boat beyond the recommended capacity shown on the capacity plate installed by the boat manufacturer.
Riding on Bow or Gunwale is illegal if the boat is not equipped with a railing or some other retaining device. As a boat operator, you are prohibited from allowing your passengers to ride on the bow or gunwale.
It is illegal to:
- Anchor a boat in the traveled portion of a river or channel that will prevent or interfere with any other passing boat
- Moor or attach a boat to a buoy, beacon, light, or any other navigational aid placed on public waters by proper authorities. Also, it is illegal to move, displace, tamper with, damage, or destroy any navigational aid
- Obstruct a pier, wharf, boat ramp or access to any facility
Marine Toilet Laws
The Discharge Of Waste
All boats, including houseboats and floating cabins, equipped with a marine toilet must have a waste-water holding system to prevent the discharge of waste products into surrounding waters.
A marine toilet is considered to be any equipment for installation onboard a boat which is designed to receive, retain, treat or discharge sewage and any process to treat such sewage. A “porta-pottie” is not considered to be a marine toilet. This figure shows a typical marine sanitation device:
It is illegal for a boat to pump out sewage from a waste-water holding system or from a portable toilet or marine sanitation device into surrounding waters, except into an approved pump-out facility or into a sewer system located on dry land.
All boats equipped with a marine toilet must be registered with the Georgia Department of Natural Resources. You will be issued a Marine Toilet Certificate decal which must be affixed to the hull adjacent to the boats registration number. The one-time certification fee is $5.00. No renewal of the certificate is required and it is transferable to any subsequent owner of the boat.
Boats equipped with a marine toilet:
Prohibited on the following lakes: Lake Burton, Bull Sluice Lake, Goat Rock Lake, Lake Harding, Lake Jackson, North Highlands Lake, Lake Oconee, Lake Oconee, Lake Rabun, Seed Lake, Tallulah Falls Lake, Tugalo Lake, and Yonah Lake.
If operated on Lakes Allatoona, Blackshear, Blue Ridge, Clarks Hill, Hartwell, Russell, Seminole, Sinclair, Sidney Lanier, Walter F. George Reservoir, or West Point, must have the marine toilet equipped with a holding tank that is built so that it can only be emptied by being pumped out. The “Y” valve must be removed to prevent discharge
You must maintain a record, going back at least one year, of the name and location of the pump-out facilities you use to empty your holding system and the dates of such use
The Discharge Of Oil And Other Hazardous Substances
It is illegal to discharge oil or hazardous substances. You are not allowed to dump oil into the bilge of the boat without means for proper disposal. You must discharge oil waste to a reception facility. On recreational boats, a bucket or bailer is adequate.
If your boat is 26 feet or longer you must display a 5 x 8 inch placard near the bilge pump switch stating the Federal Water Pollution Control Acts law.
If your boat discharges oil or hazardous substances in the water immediately call the U. S. Coast Guard at 1-800-424-8802. Call the Georgia Environmental Protection Division at 1-800-241-4113 within 24 hrs. of the discharge.
No one wants to think about what could go wrong when they are out for a day of fun and celebration. However, according to the Georgia Department of Natural Resources, it may be necessary when talking about safety on the water.
Swimming Safety Tips
What are some of the best ways that you can stay safe while swimming? Check out these following tips:
- Parents/guardians, don’t take your eyes off small children. ALWAYS know where they are when around water. DON’T ASSUME SOMEONE ELSE IS WATCHING THEM!
- Always swim with a buddy, never swim alone.
- Know your swimming limits and stay within them. Don’t try to keep up with a stronger skilled swimmer or encourage others to keep up with you.
- Swim in supervised areas only. Drop-offs or other underwater hazards may not be detectable from above the surface.
- Obey “No Diving” signs that indicate the area is unsafe for headfirst entries. Enter feet-first into water rather than headfirst if you don’t know the depth.
- Watch out for the “dangerous too’s” — too tired, too cold, too far from safety, too much sun, too much strenuous activity.
- Alcohol and swimming don’t mix. Alcohol impairs your judgment, balance and coordination especially in and around water. It affects your swimming and diving skills and reduces your body’s ability to stay warm.
- If you are a marginal or non-swimmer, wear a life jacket.
- Many lakes have life jacket borrowing programs – take advantage of these if you do not have your own.